In Brief

  • The more an ex spent time on Facebook checking up on a former partner, the longer it took him or her to get over the breakup, a study suggestsUsing Facebook to keep tabs on an ex after a breakup may delay emotional recovery and personal growth, finds research by scientists at Brunel University in England. In the study, 464 undergraduates evaluated their Facebook use, emotional recovery and distress following a breakup with a romantic partner. They found that people who spent the most time on their ex-partner's Facebook page had more distress, negative feelings and longing for their former flames and lower levels of personal growth. (Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, online Sept. 4)

  • Moving to a less impoverished neighborhood appears to increase mental health and happiness, according to University of Chicago researchers. Using data from a large-scale randomized study with 4,604 low-income families in Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York, researchers found that low-income people became happier when they moved to areas that had poverty rates lower than their old neighborhoods. The researchers estimate that the effect of the move on happiness was equivalent to giving the family a $13,000 boost in income. These findings suggest that neighborhood income segregation seems to have a greater impact than neighborhood racial segregation on health and well-being, the researchers say. (Science, Sept. 21)

  • Science faculty display subtle gender biases that may steer women away from academic science, according to research out of Yale University. In the randomized, double-blind study, researchers asked 127 biology, chemistry and physics professors nationwide to evaluate the application materials of an undergraduate student applying for a lab manager position. All professors received identical applications, which were randomly attributed to either a male or a female student. The researchers found that the male student was more likely to be hired, to be offered mentoring opportunities, to be rated more competent and to be offered a higher salary compared with the female student with identical credentials. This bias occurred independently of the faculty member's gender, scientific discipline, age and tenure status. (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, online Sept. 17)

  • Boys with divorced parents appear to be significantly more likely to experience a stroke later in life than those from intact families, finds a study led by University of Toronto scientists. Even after controlling for known risk factors for stroke, the researchers found that adult men whose parents divorced before the child turned 18 were three times more likely to have a stroke than men whose parents did not divorce. Women from divorced families did not have a higher risk of stroke than women from intact families. The researchers suggest that the exposure to the stress of parental divorce may have biological repercussions that change the way boys react to stress for the rest of their lives. (International Journal of Stroke, in press)

  • Maternal depression and antidepressant use may alter a crucial period of babies' language development, according to a study led by child and family researchers at the University of British Columbia. Scientists followed three groups of mothers — one being treated for depression with serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SRIs), one with depression but not taking antidepressants, and one with no depression. The researchers measured the babies' changes in heart rate and eye movement in response to sounds and video images in native and non-native languages at 6 and 10 months of age. They found that treating the moms' depression with SRIs appeared to accelerate their babies' ability to attune to their native language, even compared with the babies of non-depressed mothers, and that this ability may have been delayed when depressed moms did not take SRIs. (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, online Oct. 8)

  • Anonymity may spoil the accuracy of data collected through questionnaires, finds a series of studies led by a University of Amsterdam researcher. In one study, for example, undergraduates were allowed to eat M&Ms and jelly beans while they completed questionnaires on a variety of topics. Researchers then asked the students to report how many candies they'd eaten. They found that, compared with students who were instructed to fill out their name and other personal information at the top of the questionnaire, students who answered anonymously were less accurate about how much they'd indulged. The researchers say anonymity may lead participants to feel less accountable and therefore they may be less motivated to answer questions accurately. (Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, November)

  • Photos of cute kittens and cuddly puppies appear to improve concentrationPhotos of cute kittens and cuddly puppies appear to improve concentration, according to research conducted at Hiroshima University. More than 130 students were divided into three groups, with each group assigned a different task — such as picking up small objects from a hole without brushing the side — to perform twice. During the break between their tasks, participants were shown pictures of either puppies and kittens or adult cats and dogs. The researchers found that those who were shown images of baby animals performed their tasks better after the break than those who had seen the adults. This may be because cute features not only make objects and animals more approachable but also induce more careful behavioral tendencies, which are beneficial in situations requiring focused attention, such as driving and office work. (PLoS One, online Sept. 26)

  • Despite findings from previous research, a new analysis finds no relationship between eating dinner together as a family and a child's academic outcomes or behaviors, according to research led by Columbia University scientists. The study examined data from a nationally representative sample of U.S. children who entered kindergarten in 1998 and were tracked through eighth grade. Researchers controlled for factors such as parental employment, television watching, the quality of school facilities, the years of experience the children's teachers had and other variables that could potentially affect child outcomes. They were surprised to find that family meals had either small or "effectively zero" effects on the children's test scores and behavioral problems. (Child Development, online Aug. 7)

  • An intervention that uses healing touch and guided imagery appears to significantly reduce post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms among combat veterans, according to research conducted at the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine in San Diego. In a randomized controlled trial of 123 returning active-duty Marines, researchers found that patients who received six sessions of the approach — aimed at eliciting relaxation as well as enhancing trust and self-esteem — in addition to treatment as usual showed significant improvement in quality of life as well as reduced depression and cynicism, compared with soldiers treated as usual. (Military Medicine, September)

  • Just putting your cell phone on the table may reduce in-person conversation quality, according to a series of experiments led by researchers at the University of Essex. In one study, 74 participants held 10-minute conversations with a randomly assigned partner about an interesting event that happened over the past month. Researchers found that placing a mobile phone on the table between the participants — as compared with a spiral notebook — negatively affected closeness, connection and conversation quality. (Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, online July 17)

  • Automobile experts may recognize cars like most people recognize facesAutomobile experts may recognize cars like most people recognize faces, finds a study led by Vanderbilt University researchers. Scientists used high-resolution fMRI to record brain activity in the fusiform face area (FFA) of 51 automobile aficionados. Scientists had previously proposed that the FFA responded selectively to faces, but the new study found that the region can also be involved in recognizing familiar objects. The more expertise with cars a participant had, the more activity for cars was obtained in the same brain region that responds to faces. (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, online Oct. 1)

  • Social isolation during the first few weeks of life may negatively affect one's ability to form memories, according to a study led by Boston Children's Hospital researchers. Scientists isolated mice for two weeks shortly after birth and found that cells called oligodendrocytes failed to mature in the prefrontal cortex. As a result, nerve fibers there had thinner coatings of myelin, which is produced by oligodendrocytes, and the mice showed impairments in social interaction and working memory, even after they were reintroduced to a social environment. The study is part of a growing body of research that suggests that children who suffer severe neglect and social isolation have cognitive and social impairments as adults. (Science, Sept. 14)

  • Children who snore and have other sleep problems through age 5 appear more likely to require special education by age 8Children who snore and have other sleep problems through age 5 appear more likely to require special education by age 8, finds a study conducted at Yeshiva University. Researchers gathered data over the course of six years from more than 13,000 parents of infants. By age eight, around 16 percent of the children had been identified as needing special education services, but children with higher rates of sleep problems had 56 percent increased odds of needing services. (Pediatrics, October)

  • Veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and are also battling drug or alcohol problems appear to face a higher risk of death than those who do not have substance abuse issues, according to a study led by researchers from the University of Michigan Health System and the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System. The study followed more than 270,000 patients diagnosed with PTSD who received Veterans Health Administration services. It found that the association of death and addiction was most pronounced for the youngest veterans. (Drug and Alcohol Dependence, online Sept. 11)

  • Children of immigrants appear to be learning more in school and making smoother transitions into adulthood compared with children of similar socioeconomic status whose families have deeper roots in the United States, according to Johns Hopkins University researchers. They tracked nearly 11,000 children from families with diverse backgrounds from age 13 into their early 30s and compared immigrant and native-born children with similar socioeconomic status and school conditions. The best students, and later the most successful young adults, were born in foreign countries and came to the United States before reaching their teens. American-born children whose parents were immigrants followed closely in terms of achievement. (Child Development, September/October)

—Amy Novotney